University of Michigan – Flint faculty union wins recognition by university administration

By Jan Worth-Nelson

A union for University of Michigan – Flint tenured and tenure-track faculty has come one step closer, with university administration agreeing March 13, 2024, to recognize the bargaining unit. 

Union organizers from the nascent UM – Flint AFT-AAUP, AFT Local 5671, notified members via email on March 14 of the administration’s decision.

“We are so happy to be able to send this message today,” the email read. “Last night we were informed that the University has agreed to recognize our bargaining unit. This is HUGE.”

A response to the union’s request was delivered to union leadership March 13, according to Robb King, UM – Flint’s director of marketing and communications. It read:

“This is in response to your request for recognition of UM-Flint AFT-AAUP, AFT local 5671, AFL-CIO, as the agent for collective bargaining of “all tenure-track faculty employed at UM-Flint, excluding supervisors and confidential employees”. We will not contest the proposed unit definition. The next step will be to agree upon those individuals who are in the unit (e.g. are able to vote). Once there is a majority showing that those in the proposed unit wish to be represented, we will recognize the union.”

 “At this time, it is too early to comment on next steps,” King said.

No official spokespersons for the union were available for comment as of press time.  The email sent to faculty was provided to East Village Magazine (EVM) via an email message. 

As detailed in an April 2023 EVM story, unionization efforts on the downtown Flint campus launched in early 2023, when about 16 organizers held meetings, circulated information and membership cards, and consulted with eligible colleagues.  

The union, UMF AFT-AAUP Local 5671 is affiliated with a labor union representing more than 270,000 higher education workers nationwide.  

Originally, organizers said they were propelled by concerns about work load, campus climate, pay equity and alleged administration attempts to quash dissent.  

At the time, one substantial focus of their discontent was the administration of then-chancellor Debasish Dutta. Dutta left in September 2023 to become a senior advisor to the president of the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. Donna Fry, former dean of UM-Flint’s College of Health Sciences is now serving as interim chancellor while the university searches for a permanent replacement.

The new union local represents tenure-track and tenured faculty on the Flint campus only. A year ago when the effort began, organizers said that, by their count, there were “164 UM-Flint faculty members in the tenure stream across all six academic units who fall into the pool of potential union members.”

The non-tenure-track faculty already have union representation through the tri-campus Lecturers’ Employee Organization (LEO), founded in 2003. 

“It has taken us so much work to get to this point, but we have done it together,” the campus email declared. “From zoom meetings, to in person gatherings, office visits, and big events, we have banded together to ensure that the future of UM-Flint is bright. We know that we can build a better university together and that this happens when faculty are respected. Now the real work of sustaining this movement begins.”

Those tasks, according to the email, include counting membership cards and assessment by a neutral third party, to verify who is part of the proposed bargaining unit.

Next, union leadership plans to survey members on what they want in a first contract and issues they are facing in their units.

A press conference has been tentatively scheduled for March 28.

“We started this movement as a small group, but we are moving forward as a united faculty. That is truly something to be proud of at UM-Flint,” the email concluded.

Answers to all questions posed by EVM last April were provided as collective replies from the organizing group through emails from Sarah Rosaen, professor of communication. The committee includes both pre- and post-tenure colleagues, though most already have tenure. “Tenure stream” faculty are those hired into the tenure track with a path to tenure: assistant, associate and full professors.

At the time, the organizing committee had representatives from five of the university’s six academic units, “but we are always welcoming more as we aim to be as diverse and representative as possible,” they said. 

Author: East Village Magazine

A Non-profit, Community News Magazine Since 1976

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